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Tips for the Compleat Gardener: Roses are ready for attention


Roses hail from a time when history was unrecorded and are present in many subsequent tales, renown fragrance wafting around the storyline, but these were the “old” roses in existence before 1867 after that time new hybrids became all the rage and with enhanced beauty lost scent along with resistance to disease.

The old roses have a rich ancestry whereas the newer hybrids have a “narrow genetic base”.

As a gardener who uses organic techniques I have often eschewed roses in general but have found certain kinds of roses to be worth having and disease resistant, the Rugosas and climbing varieties are among those. The Rugosa roses are shrubby and exceptionally thorny, upright, among the first to get leaves and they are handsome leaves indeed with a lot of character and verdant. ( It is good that they are generally pest resistant because the use of pesticide causes the leaves to yellow.)

Rugosas thrive in the northern areas of Zone 3 down to Zone 7 and I remember them along the beaches of Massachusetts blooming midsummer, open blossoms of dark pink releasing a heavy perfume to the sea breezes. In the garden they are a presence for the whole year, only needing pruning out any dead canes and enjoying a top dressing of compost in spring topped with some mulch. Following the flowers will be beautiful, red hips, a treat for all kinds of creatures.

In my gardening experience I have found climbing roses that scale up stone walls or embrace arbors to be relatively carefree as are the sprawling varieties that love to run along a split rail fence, long arms wrapping around railings. These roses are fairly old varieties that still have that amazing fragrance and good immunity against pests.

It is possible to cultivate healthy roses organically and the first basic requirement of most roses is sun though the miniatures can tolerate some shade. They need lots of room and good air circulation so where humidity is a problem, prune for space between. Choose your roses wisely, using those that like your conditions. Plant in soil that is 30 to 50 percent sand and 20 percent clay and before planting mix one third of the volume with compost and add 1 cup of alfalfa. The pH should be slightly acid at 6.0 to 6.5.

Grandmother said to put a dead fish in every hole with a new rose.

The idea of pruning roses puts fear in the heart of many a gardener but roses are served by some direction from you. When you are pretty sure the last hard freeze has happened it is safe to cut off all dead and diseased stems and remaining leaves, pointing the growth in the desired (by you) direction by cutting ¼ inch above the dormant eye facing outward from the center of the bush.

If you are new at pruning roses err on the part of caution, you can always re-address later when it becomes obvious which canes are thriving.

If you have any kind of bleeding disorder get someone else to prune the roses. Happy spring.